Led by Jesús, the group formed a flying wedge and charged across the choir towards the pulpit. A mob clogged the open doors on the North Transept trying to get in. The Count huddled behind the pier next to the pulpit. His men unlocked the gates leading down into the catacombs.
He noticed Aysha was missing. “What happened, Lucien?” the Count asked.
“She was scared,” he gasped, rubbing his red face, “unworthy of the Silent Sages.”
“Youth today,” Roland agreed, shaking his head. “Is it still secure below?”
“Unchanged, sir,” confirmed his henchman, swinging the wrought iron portal open.
Flashlights provided illumination as they descended the spiral staircase. It was eerily peaceful below with the commotion above resounding through the hollow spaces.
At the bottom, several of the men covered the exit of the Danse Macabre while others went through a side passage. They signaled, and the group followed.
At the end of the tunnel another iron gate stood. Behind it stood a heavy-set man, smelling of old Turkish tobacco. Seeing the Count, he pocketed his revolver and quickly unlocked the gate. “Come in, quickly, Excellency,” he said in a low rumbling voice. “What happened? It sounds as if the world is ending.”
“Perhaps it is; the experiment succeeded beyond all hope,” the Count said. “Thanks, old friend. Sorry to impose but we’re stuck. All other ways out are blocked but we must go.”
“Why?” Allie asked. “What’s the hurry?”
“Mademoiselle, do you really think we were the sole observers?” Roland said, irritated. “Time is of the essence. Jesús, check the car.” The footman nodded and left.
Allie looked at the large man in puzzlement. “Monsieur Farouk?” she asked.
He smiled. “Miss MacLantis,” he rumbled, taking her hand. “I regret to meet you under these conditions. Where are your brothers?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Up there, somewhere. We were separated in the commotion.”
“You must come with us. Your psychic expertise could be most helpful,” Lacnuit said.
Allie hesitated. “I suppose they’ll be alright. They’d never forgive me otherwise.”
“That’s what I’d expect from a MacLantis,” Roland said. “Let’s go. Maureven’s not far, but it won’t be easy getting there. Hopefully, they’ll soon catch up.”
Quickly they ascended the narrow stairs, through a hidden door into an untidy salon filled with antiques, scattering several cats. Out they went towards a hulking black Mercedes idling in the alley. Shouting came from the streets beyond.
Jesús opened the door for Allie but she suddenly balked. “No wait, I can’t. There are people hurt back there. This is wrong. If you go, you’re doomed, all of you, doomed.”
“Really, Miss MacLantis, we’ve no time for these games,” the Count growled. “Jesús, please help her. Come, woman: it will be fine. We just need your talents.”
“No, not with you,” said Allie, as she twisted suddenly from Jesús’ grip. She ran. “Skip! Gus!” she called. Before Jesús could catch her, she ran around the corner and was gone.
Skip and Gus rolled over the uneven surface of the old floor. Skip groaned as he sat up. “Gus, you okay? We need to catch up to the Count. I think Allie’s gone with them to Horrig’s.”
Gus scrambled about on hands and knees. “My glasses! I can’t see anything.” He squinted up at his brother. “Go, make them wait. I’ll be right behind you. Go!”
Skip hauled himself up and stumbled across to the other side. Gus found his glasses quickly, but they were under the clear floor and hard to get. By the time he reached the nave, neither of his siblings could be seen in the murk. But the front doors of the Cathedral were now wide open, and people were streaming in from the North Transept as well. Atop the bleachers by the statue of Mary, Bishop Galliard uselessly pleaded for order.
“Oi, chum, this way!” Nigel called from across the central space, and whistled.
Gus muscled his way along the wall. They met by a pier. “Damn, this is nuts,” Gus said. “Have you seen Skip or Allie? Or the Count and his goons?”
Nigel’s wide eyes were all that was visible as he shook his head. “Where were they headed?” he asked.
“Skip said Horrig’s, that’s east of here, past the graveyard,” Gus said. “And that’s where Angelique was supposed to host a service after the show. Cindi could be there now.”
“What are we waiting for? We’ll never find your siblings in this mess.”
“I didn’t think you’d be so eager, Nigel,” Gus said, punching buttons upon his phone. “Damn it, she’s not answering.” He tried another number. “Can’t let Skip be the hero?”
“Screw that, mate,” Nigel replied, the teeth behind his big smile shining like a shark’s. “You’re going after the Holy Tub. That’s where the story is. Let’s go, mate.”
“Easier said than done,” Gus said. The huge central area of the basilica was in total bedlam, slight illumination other than the Moon provided by the futile red glow of the presence lights and a few flashlights roving through the gloom. Together they cautiously made their way towards the gaping front doors.
Once in the moonlight, they were immediately surrounded by babbling questioners. “Hey, Professor MacLantis! Is it true?” “The Vision – is it here?” “What’s happened? Wait, why are you going?”
“See for yourselves, you clots!” Nigel shouted, plunging forward, followed by Gus.
Yet the opening acted like a drain, drawing more and more towards its maw. Once again they were relentlessly pushed back. Behind them, however, came Taff.
“You!” Nigel angrily began. “You smarmy prat, I ought to kick your –”
Gus cut him off, “Dude, sorry, I feel the same way, but there’s no time for this.”
The Welshman backed away. “Sorry, I meant no harm. I was just being a clever dick.”
“Listen, Taff, if there’s anybody who can help us, it’s you,” Gus explained. “The Count’s gone to Haute Maureven to find the Holy Tub and taken our sister. She might be in danger. We have to get after them.”
Taff nodded, “Where’s Agent Marcel?”
“Down in the South Transept, I think,” Gus said. “My brother’s missing, too.” He looked at his phone as if personally blaming it, “Angelique still won’t pick up. Neither does Allie.”
“Place is a complete shambles. It’s up to us,” Nigel added.
“Maybe I can help,” said the Don Yago impersonator, tugging at his moustache. “I could probably distract this lot. You’ll need transport, though.”
“Hey, there’s abandoned cop carts there,” Nigel said. “What do you think?”
“Brilliant,” Taff said, “I’ll clear off the horde. Help me get up on this pier.”
Together they aided Taff to mount a buttress footing next to the door. As they supported him, the wobbly juggler took out a small bottle and a lighter. “Here goes.”